Embroidery as Existentialism: Leor Grady’s Objects of Affection
Leor Grady: Objects of Affection at Y Gallery
January 7 to February 5, 2012
165 Orchard Street, between Rivington and Stanton streets
New York City, (917) 721 4539
Leor Grady’s solo exhibition at Y Gallery’s intimate Project Room features sculpture, painting, and 2-dimensional works on fabric and paper. Titled “Objects of Affection,” the installation moves between metaphor and symbolism in tones of white and gold. All works were made by hand, a point that underscores the meditative quality of Grady’s practice.
In one key piece, the famous phrase of Hillel’s, “If I’m not for myself, who will be?” is embroidered in Hebrew characters on a man’s handkerchief. Their spacing is such that the quote might also read as “Without a mother, who will be for me?”.
The single painting in the show is dominated by an amorphous pool of gold enamel that signifies, for the artist, the shimmering surface of the Sea of Galilee. The painting’s motif resonates with an out-sized, gold-painted paper boat nearby, positioned so as to list downward on the gallery’s blind stair. Sagging under its own weight, imperfections at the structural folds add to its poignant condition.
By contrast, the geometry of a concrete “house” on wheels is authoritatively correct. A dense cube topped by a separately cast triangular solid, its diminutive size and reductive form initially suggest the fantasy of stability and safety that a house represents. But inevitably, this work takes on a more specific allusion to the dilemma of settlements on land disputed by Palestine and Israel, partly through the work’s implacable yet moveable aspect, but also because of its proximity to Grady’s embroidered maps of the Dead Sea. In these works on paper, mirrored forms face each other with lashed and dangling threads, knots, and needle-holes. Endlessly combative, warlike and intimate, this is embroidery as existentialism. “If I am not for myself….”
Meanwhile, pillows stacked within a gallery niche simultaneously contrast with the concrete house and connect with the wilting boat. Creating a wall, they block the Project Space’s street entrance and instigate richly contradictory references – to sand bags, bedding, dreams, sexual innuendo. If a military theme lurks within this show, the pillows complicate matters in concert with other works’ allusions to deep time and questions of selfhood.
Grady, who was born in Israel to Yemeni parents, has been New York-based since 1996. As this solo installation and his participation in recent group shows suggests, his approach to conceptual art relates to that of Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Zoe Leonard, and Barbara Bloom. Respecting the differences between these artists, a common thread grounds their emphasis on the personal and the political, which unmistakably relates to social activism, yet leaves the viewer utterly free of didacticism.
Grady’s practice also resonates with Gedi Sibony’s in its subtlety and veiled political content. But whereas Sibony is ingeniously subversive, Grady is emotionally engaging, even endearing. One of the most interesting things about “Objects of Affection” is the way Grady’s installation gains momentum toward collective meaning, delivering a velvet punch that is simultaneously forthright and poetically confrontational.